Posted: Friday July 15, 2005 3:41PM; Updated: Friday July 15, 2005 5:43PM
SI.com: How do these upcoming games fit with your overall vision for MLS?
Leiweke: I think MLS has to prove, whether it be on the world stage at the World Cup or with our teams, that we are gaining ground on the rest of the world, that in fact football is an international sport, and that our clubs need to get the experience and the reputation to be able to play these European superclubs and compete with them and do fairly well. It may take us a few years before we become competitive because they are ahead of us and have the best players in the world. But it's critical for MLS teams to play on an international stage and play meaningful games, and this year in particular is the first year we've had so many significant games with teams like Real Madrid, Chelsea and AC Milan.
SI.com: You spoke recently in the Los Angeles Times about a 12-point plan for upgrading MLS you presented at the recent Board of Governors meeting in Colorado. What did that plan include?
Leiweke: It's not just my plan -- there are a lot of partners that are very involved in soccer. We're just one of them at AEG, and I'm just part of the people within AEG who are passionate about this and have ideas on how to grow the sport. I'd say this is a universal plan, and it's how we get more competitive within our teams, how we become more significant on the international stage, how we incorporate ourselves into the FIFA schedule. Our schedule in MLS is different from the rest of the world's schedule in football. It's how we continue to build the U.S. men's national team, and how we ultimately are able to not only expand the league's footprint but create more soccer-specific stadiums.
So there are a lot of issues. Some of it's competitive issues and rosters and what we're spending on our teams. Some of it is our schedule and how we fit into the world's schedule. Some of it is the Mexican teams and the European teams and how we fit into their schedule. Some of it is about how we ultimately become a better TV product.
SI.com: What kind of specifics do you want to see regarding schedules and player salaries?
Leiweke: I think it's a work in progress. This is a footprint that is being created by all our partners, so I'd better wait until we get it all approved before I start spouting them off specifically.
SI.com: How much does AEG want to increase the money MLS spends on its players?
Leiweke: Let me put it this way: I don't think there's any disagreement from anybody in the league. We need to continue to put a better product on the pitch, and all of us are exploring ways to do that. To a person, all of us are committed to having a better product, and that is a very active topic of discussion right now.
SI.com: How would you describe what was discussed at the Board of Governors meeting?
Leiweke: Actually, very harmonious. I think we're all on the same page. We have a pretty unique group with the wherewithal and the intelligence and experience of [New England Revolution owners] the Kraft family, [owners of FC Dallas, the Kansas City Wizards and the Columbus Crew] the Hunt family, AEG, [Real Salt Lake owner] Dave Checketts and [Colorado Rapids owner] Stan Kroenke. That's a pretty amazing group. So people can say what they will about MLS and the sport of soccer and whether it will ever make it, but I continue to point to those individuals. These are some of the brightest and most experienced people in professional sports in the United States, and they have the wherewithal to make this sport successful single-handedly.
I think we'll continue to add to our partners and find guys who want to join that group, but we're all on the same page. This group of owners is dedicated to making this sport and this league successful. We may occasionally have small disagreements, but I can tell you on the big-picture items -- including getting more competitive on the world stage and having a better product on the pitch -- there's no disagreement. We just have to figure out how to get there.